The Best of BAMF – An Interview with WILL EISNER

spirit 1Every year, the week of March 6th is Will Eisner Week. The sixth of March is, of course, the birthday of Eisner, a storyteller best known for creating the ground-breaking comic strip The Spirit in 1940. Eisner is often credited as the founding father of the American comic book; and though that statement is a bit of an exaggeration, it’s not that much of an exaggeration. Eisner’s impact on the comic book medium is beyond measure, as is his impact on contemporary popular culture. Not everyone knows Eisner’s name as a creator, but the influence of his work is interwoven throughout storytelling in multiple mediums and genres.

Thirty-eight years after creating The Spirit, Eisner wrote and drew A Contract with God, the critically acclaimed comic that was the precursor to the contemporary graphic novel. His book Comics and Sequential Art has become an indispensable source for understanding and creating comics. Eisner passed away in 2005, but I was fortunate enough to meet him in June of 2001, when my friend, Diana Schutz introduced us. For me, it was an honor to talk with one of the most influential men in a medium I hold so close to my heart. Here is the interview that I conducted back in 2001. Continue reading

Share Button
Posted in COMICS, INTERVIEWS, Life & Times, NEWS & UPDATES | Tagged | Leave a comment

BECOMING BLACK – an excerpt, part 3

nelson hancock smallHere is an excerpt from my collection of essays, Becoming Black: Personal Ramblings on Racial Identification, Racism, and Popular Culture. In this essay, “Double Consciousness, Roots, and Finding Our Place in History,” I attempted to explain the history of slavery in America, by looking through a very personal lens. Rather than talk about slavery in terms of abstract individuals, which is what most conversations surrounding the topic tend to do, I talked about the people in my family. I was fortunately able to include a picture of my great-great grandfather, Nelson Hancock (pictured left), who was born a slave.

Lelia Moore, Mary Anne Settle, William and Mary Vaugthers, and Catherine Mulatto Brown are four of my great grandparents who exist on my family tree with no real history to call their own. They are joined by other generations of my great grandparents Joe Walker, Amanda Walker, Thomas and Mary Banks, Samuel and Katy Venable, Issac Jackson, and Susan Brown, all of who were slaves, but whose stories have long since been forgotten. It is as if their existence didn’t matter enough to be properly recorded or remembered, and their forgotten lives—like the forgotten lives of millions of other slaves—are all missing chapters in the history of this nation. On a national level, each one of these missing chapters is a part of America’s history that has never been told. But on a more personal level, these chapters are pieces of your being—of your soul—that have been lost and can never be recovered, leaving you incomplete. This incompleteness, born out of a lack of history, tells you that you came from nothing, and therefore part of what you are is nothingness—you are defined by, and regarded by, a lack of understanding of what came before you. And again, this is where double-consciousness is formed.
To be the descendent of slaves is to be the heir to a fragmented history that inevitably is a frustrating mess of non-existence on one side, and, quite frequently, surprising revelations on the other side. The legacy of slavery in America is like a giant tree. On one side of the tree, massive branches extend across the Atlantic Ocean to Europe. The boughs are strong, having grown for centuries, blooming with leafs of history. On the other side of the tree, most of the branches have been chopped off and hauled away to be used as firewood. The branches that remain are short, with leafs that bloom sporadically. It is almost impossible to believe that these two drastically different sides can exist on one tree—one side lush and healthy, the other side ravaged by abuse and neglect. Yet there it is, for everyone to see, a giant tree that grows in every town and every city in America, providing shade with its giant branches on one side, while the other side, with its damaged and severed limbs that leave people wondering, “What’s wrong with this tree?”

Share Button
Posted in Life & Times, NEWS & UPDATES, Race Matters, Random Nonsense | Tagged | Leave a comment

Examining Cyrus, THE WARRIORS, and remembering Roger Hill

cyrusBest known for his role as the charismatic gang leader Cyrus in Walter Hill’s The Warriors, actor Roger Hill passed away this week at age 65. Most people didn’t know Hill by his given name, though some recognized him from his time on the soap opera One Life to Live, and diehard fans of 1970s black cinema easily spotted him in The Education of Sonny Carson. But for millions of fans a cinemaniacs, Hill was simply Cyrus, the ill-fated leader of the Gramercy Riffs, with the audacious plan to unite all the gangs of New York into an army to fight back against the police, organized crime, and the other oppressive forces that kept the poor people of New York enslaved by poverty, dope, and crime.

The Warriors was based on a novel by Sol Yurick, with a screenplay by David Shaber and director Hill. What many fans of The Warriors don’t know is that is was very loosely based on Xenophon’s Anabasis, the epic true tale of Greek mercenaries working for Cyrus the Younger, who became trapped behind enemy lines after their leader was killed in the of battle of Cunaxa, and they had to fight their way back to the sea. All of this took place around 401 BC, and recognizing the connection between Anabasis and The Warriors is reserved solely for history buffs or anyone talking time to watch the bonus features on The Warriors DVD (and folks like me, who studied as much as they could about the movie from the moment it came out in 1979).

cyrus_the_warriorsOver the years, I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve seen The Warriors. And as the film’s cult status has continued to grow, more and more people have become aware of how the film was influenced by the real-life events chronicled by Xenophon. But I’ve often wondered about the other real-life events that possibly influenced The Warriors, and especially the character of Cyrus, who was in fact inspired by Cyrus the Younger, son of Darius II of Persia. As far as I know, no one else has ever written about this (and if they have, I apologize for not giving them credit), but I can’t help but feel that Cyrus was partially influenced by two very important 20th century leaders more than a 4th century BC prince. Those two men would be Fred Hampton of Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party, and Afrika Bambaataa, hip-hop pioneer and founder of the Universal Zulu Nation.

For all of its over-the-top action and melodrama, The Warriors has at is core a very subversive political message. This is the message delivered by Cyrus, moments before he is gunned down. It is the message of taking back the streets, of organizing the criminalized and the oppressed to protect the community. Ultimately, he is talking about politicizing non-political people, and taking control of city that has left the oppressed to either starve, die, or rot in jail. Without going into the incredible history of the late great Fred Hampton, take a look at what he was doing to politicize the street gangs of Chicago, until he was murdered by the police department. Take a look at how Afrika Bambaataa helped transform the notorious Black Spades street gang into the Universal Zulu Nation.

roger-hill-the-warriorsNow, I could be off in my reading of Cyrus in The Warriors. Maybe there are no influences to be found in the lives and accomplishments of Hampton and Bambaataa. Maybe Roger Hill’s performance was not inspired at all by Fred Hampton or Afrika Bambaataa. Maybe, instead, with his light complexion, Cyrus was an alternate universe version of Malcolm X or Huey P. Newton, two dynamic leaders that also struggled to politicize the Black community. Imagine for a moment a fictional world where Malcolm Little never joined the Nation of Islam and became Malcolm X, but instead became a gang leader in New York, where in time he began to recognize the systems of oppression that kept him and the community dehumanized.

I know all of this may seem ridiculous to some people—and perhaps it is pointless to think about these things. But this is all part of what makes the film so compelling to me. Part of appreciating and critically examining film (and pop culture) is learning to look at it through a larger lens, to recognize the possibility of what certain moments may mean, or what influenced these moments. Perhaps nothing went into the character of Cyrus other than writing his speech, casting Roger Hill, and shooting his scene. But I doubt that. The reason Cyrus and his speech has resonated with so many people for so long is because there is within him something recognizable that we all are looking for—at least those of us who have known the realities of sociopolitical oppression and police brutality. To put it simply, Cyrus had a plan to stick it to The Man.

Share Button
Posted in NEWS & UPDATES, Race Matters, Random Nonsense | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Cartoon Fun Time 15 – Captain Afro

captain afroThirty years ago I created the legendary Captain Afro, the first hip-hop superhero. Where does the time go?

Share Button
Posted in Cartoon Fun Time | Leave a comment

THE ARMY OF DR. MOREAU – Panel Evolution

sneakHere’s a look at a panel evolution from The Army of Dr. Moreau #2 now available from Monkeybrain Comics through Comixology. Written by David F. Walker (that’s me), art by Carl Sciacchitano, colored by Sara Machajewski. On sale for 99 cents.

Share Button
Posted in Random Nonsense | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Remembering Dwayne McDuffie, Part 2

mcduffieThree years ago today, we lost the beloved Dwayne McDuffie. In person, Dwayne towered well over six feet tall, which lent itself to a larger-than-life image that was really the opposite of how he carried himself. You could always spot Dwayne in a crowd, but you couldn’t necessarily hear him over the crowd. With his intimidating size, Dwayne knew how to not be intimidating in his demeanor. His work spoke much louder than he did. That’s part of the reason so many people miss him, and part of the reason people like me, who were only casually acquainted with him feel the loss so greatly. I feel bad for anyone who never got to meet him, because you missed out on meeting a truly beautiful human being. But Dwayne lives on in his work—an incredible list of accomplishments that is as impressive as it is entertaining. If you’re not familiar with Dwayne’s work, take the time do the research, look at his list of credits, and then read some of what he wrote, watch some of what he produced, and then you’ll understand part of why we all miss him so much.

Share Button
Posted in COMICS, Life & Times, NEWS & UPDATES | Tagged | Leave a comment

It is Possible to See Beyond Race, If Only for 96 Minutes

suture1In the 1993 film Suture, actors Michael Harris (left) and Dennis Hasbert (right), play brothers Vincent and Clay. Throughout the film, everyone remarks how much Clay and Vincent look like each other. In fact, it is the similarity of their appearance that drives much of this neo-noir thrill. Obviously, Harris and Hasbert look nothing alike. They don’t even sound alike. But as the film progress, you actually come to believe they do look alike. How is this possible? Because when a film is well made, and the story is compelling, willing suspension of disbelief can actually influence racial perceptions. The problem with many people is that they want to hold on to their racial perceptions, because the world stops making sense if they let go. Holding on makes them comfortable. This comfort does not make them racist, but it does mean that they can be engaging in an aspect of racism, even if they don’t realize it. It is similar thinking that makes people assume that a Black adult with a White child can’t possibly be their parent, or that they must be adopted.

Share Button
Posted in NEWS & UPDATES, Race Matters, Random Nonsense | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Casting Outside the Box (a.k.a. I’d Rather Have Jean Claude Van Damme Play Luke Cage Over Tyler Perry Any Day)

jcvd cage tylerWell, it seems plenty of people are upset about my last two posts regarding Micheal B. Jordan being cast as Human Torch in the reboot of Fantastic Four. Most of irrate folks are comic books fans, bemoaning the fact that Johnny Storm is not Black, and that this is like casting a white actor as Black Panther or Luke Cage. “How would you feel if a White Actor played Luke Cage?” Well, if we’re going to be honest, it might bother me…unless it was the right White guy. My choice for a White Luke Cage would have to be actor Richard Tyson, circa 1988.

richard-tysonBest remembered for his role as Buddy Revell in 3 O’Clock High, I think he would’ve made a good Luke Cage. But to be really honest, if we are going to change anything about Luke Cage, I’d prefer to change his gender. I’d love to see Luke Cage become Lucy Cage, and have her played by Kerry Washington.

Kerry_Washington-ScandalLikewise, I’d like to see Gina Carano play Iron Fist.

gina-caranoI would love to see the Blade franchise relaunched, and my top choice for playing the iconic vampire hunter would be none other than Donnie Yen.

ip-man-donnie-yenMy top choice for recasting Magneto would have to be Edward James Olmos.edward_james_olmosOf course, all of these choices are pure fantasy, and highly unlikely, but all are capable of working within the proper context. “Proper context” in this case meaning a great script. So, would it bother me if a White actor were cast as Luke Cage? Yes, it would. But not as much as if Chris Tucker, Tyrese Gibson, Tyler Perry were cast as Luke Cage, just because they’re Black. I’d rather see Jean Claude Van Damme, as he is right now (with that weird lump on his forehead), as Luke Cage than Tyler Perry any day. And if the script were great, the performance even better, and the movie beyond reproach, I’d sit back and enjoy the Muscles from Brussels exclaim, “Sweet Christmas!” As I write this, Kiev is burning. Parts of Venezuela are burning. Don’t we have more important things to think about than if a Black actor plays a White character?

Share Button
Posted in COMICS, Race Matters, Random Nonsense, RANTS & RAVES | Leave a comment

Why An African American Human Torch is Important (a.k.a. Comic Fans are Racist and Kinda Unimportant)

michael-b-jordan-portraitWake up world, Black actor Michael B. Jordan has been cast as Johnny Storm (a.k.a. the Human Torch) in the upcoming reboot of the Fantastic Four franchise. The hurricane of controversy, and all the requisite ridiculous and racist comments have begun, and will keep flowing, until, or course, the movie comes out, as which point people will go see it not matter how incensed or infuriated they are. And you know what, I don’t care if anyone is incensed, infuriated, or inconsolable about a Black actor being cast in a fictional role of a character that is known to be White. Really, honestly, and truly, I don’t care at all. That is not, however, going to stop me from addressing a few issues. Continue reading

Share Button
Posted in COMICS, NEWS & UPDATES, Race Matters, Random Nonsense, RANTS & RAVES | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

The Human Torch is Being Played by a Black Guy. SO WHAT?!?

jordan-torchNow that Black actor Michael B. Jordan has been officially cast as Johnny Storm (a.k.a. Human Torch) in the new Fantastic Four movie, all the negative crap has started to spew. We’ve all heard the crap before: “Johnny Storm is white!!! That’s Like casting a white actor as Martin Luther King, Jr!” Well, dumbass racist, it’s actually nothing like that. Johnny Storm is a fictional character. Martin Luther King Jr. being played by a white actor would like…well…it would be kind of like this…oakie-beckJack Oakie playing real life African American explorer/mountain man James Beckworth.

geronimo connorsChuck Connors playing real life Apache warrior Geronimo.

wayne khanJohn Wayne playing Mongol emperor Genghis Khan.

Would you like me to go on? Or could you just shut up, and avoid sounding any more racist?

Share Button
Posted in NEWS & UPDATES, Race Matters, Random Nonsense, RANTS & RAVES | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment